The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

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“Of course, this was nearly two decades ago, and some of the details I’ve since forgotten. Call it willful amnesia or an act of forgiveness.”

All of the Guineveres (Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win) end up at The Sister’s of Supreme Adoration and not at their own choosing. It’s a slow creep into finding out why they each ended up there, and for me- that was the gooey inside that made reading worthwhile. It is quiet as a church, pun intended, as the reader joins along in their young antics. We’re not sure what war is going on, but it doesn’t matter because the presence of the wounded soldiers seem to be the only distraction worth the Guinevere’s time. The chapters tell the stories about several saints, which is beautiful and you don’t have to be of catholic background to enjoy it. About the strict Sister Fran, “She takes everything away,” Ginny said. “She’d take the sun out of the sky if she could.” So while the Guineveres aren’t tortured, for girls coming of age, learning about desires, hunger, boys, and longing for a future this isn’t exactly the ideal happy place to grow up. Together they are a special family of their own, and always one is a leader. The comatose soldiers in the Sick Ward become their boys, and through them childish longings and fantasy becomes all too real. We know the girls aren’t trapped forever, won’t all become nuns- that isn’t the purpose of being there. It’s a dumping place of sorts, which we come to understand what sort of ‘shame’ lands a girl in such a place. I was heartbroken for them by the end. You wonder, then as now, how others sins become a girl’s own. This novel is a slow trek and small things happen, if you don’t have the patience for literary fiction, this may be a challenge. But I enjoyed the girls naivete, no matter how worldly or damaged a girl is (by her choices, or the sins of others) there is still a childlike essence in young women, until the world steals it all and the reader sees it in every action the Guineveres take.
The ending… I am not sure how I feel about it. It has the taste of tragedy for me and maybe that’s fitting in it’s own way. These aren’t happy times for the Guineveres. There is so much pain and rejection, terrible choices, so much like any coming of age but with a religious spin. I am interested to know what other readers will take away from this unique story. I finished it feeling sad, and heavy. I love Father James! Who couldn’t enjoy his joking? “How did Eve ensure Adam wasn’t cheating on her? She counted his ribs.” I grew up Catholic, the priests I met weren’t monsters and child molesters, nor were the nuns. They aren’t here either, they are humanized. No matter how Godly and good we hope to be, we’re all just creatures of the earth, damaged by ourselves and each other. I was happy to finally get my hands on the arc, I had been hearing about it for months. I only wish the reason each girl was sent there was explained earlier.

Flatiron Books

Publication Date: October 4 2016

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